History of Istanbul
Strategically located on either sides of the Bosphorus strait, Istanbul actually bridges both Europe and Asia, and is also considered to be Turkey's cultural and financial center. It prides over the fact that is happens to be one of the most famous cities in the world in terms of historical monuments and natural scenery. With a history spanning about 2500 years there is little wonder in the fact that Istanbul has the city has imbibed the various cultures of its different masters.
One of the largest cities in Europe, Istanbul has chanced to be the capital of three great empires, the Roman Empire, The Byzantine Empire and lastly the Ottoman Empire, and records point out to the fact that around 120 emperors ruled the world from this place for more than 1600 years!
Although Istanbul was supposed to have been a small fishing village called Semista in 1000 BC, records date it to sometime from 5500 BC to 3500 BC. The ground for the Byzantine Empire was created when in 667 BC a Greek ruler from Megara called Byzas decided to establish a colony in this place, and named it Byzantium. This was later expanded on the orders of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, who named the place, Constantinople, and it was made it the capital of the entire Roman Empire, which lasted around for almost a thousand years. It should not be forgotten that the Patriarchate of Eastern Christians was headquartered here ever since the establishment of the Byzantine Empire, and the largest and early churches and monasteries of the Christian world, like the Hagia Sophia, rose in this city on top of the various pagan temples. The Hagia Sophia enjoyed the status as the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years after it was built, till 1850.
As was expected, the going was not very smooth for the various Roman Emperors, who had to fight against outsiders as well as insiders, to retain their kingdom. Many a times, Constantinople fell to destruction and anti government riots and was partially damaged and several of its structures ruined. Its apt location in the continent, which favored trade and commerce, was a main reason for it being attacked viciously by people like the Arabs, the Nomads, Persians, Barbarians, etc from time to time.
1453 saw the down fall of the great Byzantine Empire, when the Ottoman Turks led by Sultan Mehmet II, conquered Constantinople and ousted the Romans. All existing Roman structures and buildings were ravaged and plundered and the remaining Byzantine population, which was quite less due to widespread war and fighting, were deported elsewhere. The name of Constantinople was changed to Istanbul, and the Christian city gave way to an Islamic nation, as the Emperor started converting all churches to mosques and other Muslim structures. The old burial grounds of the Erstwhile Roman Emperors were unceremoniously converted and a mosque and Islamic college were built over them. The Hagia Sophia was also converted to a mosque, and all the Christian adornments like the altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels were cast away. The wonderful murals depicting several religious episodes were covered with plaster and more suitable Islamic craftsmanship came into being.
But due credit should be given to the Great Ottoman Sultan, whose farsightedness prompted him to go ahead with a cosmopolitan outlook. In a city which was just a shadow of its former glory, the population and skilled artisans were very few and he encouraged people from all over to come and settle down here, chiefly to make use or their varied skills. This tolerant attitude of the Sultan as well as his successors resulted in the re-building of a magnificent Islamic city, rich with history and tradition, and led it to become one among the glorious nations of the world.
In 1923, after Turkey became a people's republic, its president, Kemal Ataturk, shifted its capital from Istanbul to Ankara. But Istanbul has not lost its former glory and pomp and still continues to be rich in culture and heritage, thereby attracting swarms of tourists every year.